Does your stomach really shrink when you eat less?

As a specialist in weight loss, I hear this phrase a lot, “I just need to shrink my stomach so I can get used to eating less.”

In reality, throughout life, the adult stomach stays about the same, which is the size of a football. However, the stomach is a muscle that can be stretched temporarily to fit more in should the occasion occur. How much we eat tends to be more dictated by habit and hormones rather than size, however.

A little anatomy for you. (I promise, just a little.) There are three very basic parts of the stomach: the top (the fundus), the middle (the body), and the bottom (the pylorus), which is where food empties out into your intestines. The the fundus, is the stretchy part that can expand a bit to allow more food to fit if necessary. It is not likely that the entire body of the stomach is going to expand to allow more food. Back to the football, if you can visualize how much chewed up food that would really mean, it’s quite a lot. However, our body regulates our appetite with hormones that send signals to our brain to tell us whether we’ve eaten enough or not – this is independent of how full the stomach is. Those hormones play a very big role in weight regulation and can be easily over-ridden by outside cues (i.e. the food tastes really good, it’s Thanksgiving, etc.)

Now back to the fundus. This upper muscle is why there’s always room for dessert, but maybe not another immediate meal. It takes about two full hours for the meal to completely empty down to the lower  stomach, out and travel into the small intestine. If you overdo it by eating too much too fast or adding some dessert at the end, that fundus is going to allow for some extra room. For those that habitually overdo it, the tolerance is going to grow over time for allowance. For those that don’t, it’s gonna be more uncomfortable and you’ll be less likely to keep doing it. When you go on a diet and purposely under eat for a couple of weeks, that fundus will become less stretchy and you’ll feel like your stomach has “shrunk.” But it really hasn’t. Weird, huh?

Competitive eaters use this to their advantage and train that muscle over time to allow them to eat a lot in one sitting without puking. I’m not suggesting you do that since I’m assuming you read my blog for help with weight loss, not competitive eating.

In someone who has had weight loss surgery, the body and possibly the pylorus of the stomach has been removed or bypassed, leaving about the size of an egg left. That’s not a lot and it creates some massive restriction. Because this part of the stomach is a muscle and can still stretch, it doesn’t stay that restricted for good. However, the tolerance for over-eating is much less, so the individual usually never gets back to having a football size stomach and still experiences permanent food restriction. If you know someone who had weight loss surgery and regained all or some of their weight because they “stretched their stomach back out,” this may be what’s going on. That’s for another blog post, though.

Hope you found this helpful and enjoyed a little weird science today!

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded women striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free online support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Take probiotics to stop sneezing and fidgeting?

Gut health seems to be getting the spotlight in the past several years. People are more concerned than ever about what’s going on in their insides. And this has made probiotics of particular interest. But why? In my early career days, the only people we would recommend probiotics to were those with intestinal infections and those on heavy doses of antibiotics.

Today, it’s as common to take probiotics as it is to take a multivitamin. Why? Let’s first review what exactly a probiotic is before we begin to understand some of the reasons why people would want to consider taking them as a daily supplement. Probiotics contain microorganisms, most of which are bacteria similar to the beneficial bacteria that occur naturally in the human gut. In other words, beneficial = does good things. Sounds really scientific, huh? The most-studied species include Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces. (yeah, I know those do sound really scientific.)

To keep this post reasonably short, I’m going to go over the top four reasons my readers said they take probiotics and discuss them here.

  • They improve digestive regularity. You’ve probably heard this one. Makes sense, right? If the natural and beneficial bacteria that are similar to probiotics are found in the gut, they should benefit our bowel habits. Don’t ya think? What does the research say, though? “There is high-quality evidence that probiotics are effective for acute infectious diarrhea, antibiotic-associated diarrhea, clostridium difficile–associated diarrhea, hepatic encephalopathy, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, functional gastrointestinal disorders, and necrotizing enterocolitis. Conversely, there is evidence that probiotics are not effective for acute pancreatitis and crohn’s disease.” C. diff is bad news and highly contagious diarrhea. It can be big problem in hospitals and can really keep someone there for a while with pretty severe dehydration if not handled correctly. It will put you out for quite some time if you are unfortunate enough to get it. Good news is, probiotics are safe for infants, children, adults, and older patients. I’m going to add here, that probiotics do not survive in an acidic and hostile stomach environment. We don’t necessarily need the billion gazillion cells that most available brands pride themselves on. Problem is, the majority of the them don’t survive the stomach acid long enough to reach the small intestine where they are needed. The billions of live cells are present in these brands in hopes that some will make it to the end. We don’t actually know how many that is. Perhaps that’s why some people experience benefits and others do not.
  • They support our immune health.  Our digestive system is not only responsible for the digestion and absorption of food nutrients, but it provides protection against potentially harmful antigens (such as toxins, bacteria, virus, foreign blood cells.) Several available research data points to the conclusion that probiotics can be used as innovative tools for treating dysfunctions of the gut mucosal barrier, including acute gastroenteritis (i.e. food poising or a “stomach bug”), food allergies, and inflammatory bowel disease (i.e. diverticulosis). You’ve probably been told at some point in your life to take probiotics during or after a course of antibiotics to restore the healthy bacteria that was killed off. We need them.
  • May help alleviate allergy symptoms. Infants are more susceptible to allergic responses because their immune systems and digestive symptoms are still developing. The types of bacteria and amounts present depend on several different factors including whether the child was born by cesarean or vaginally, breastfed or formula fed, age they were introduced to table food and types of food, antibiotic exposure, and of course genetics. This review examined the available research and found that indeed probiotics did improve their allergic responses and reduced symptoms of common ailments like eczema, allergic rhinitis, and allergic dermatitis. When infants were given Lctbs rhamnosus for the first 2 years of life they had a significant reduction by approximately half in the prevalence of eczema. And this study showed that when adults and children suffering from allergic rhinitis took therapeutic doses of Lactobacillus paracasei, they experienced significant improvements also.

In another study , they gave children at a daycare fermented milk containing lactobacillus casei (think kefir) and saw marked improvements as well, but not in those children with asthma. Pretty cool, huh? More research still needs to be done in spite of these exciting results since not all come to the same conclusion and they weren’t done on large scales. It doesn’t hurt to go ahead and take them though.

  • Reduce Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) symptoms. Say what?! It’s true. Recent experimental evidence suggests that gut microbiota may alter function within the nervous system. This particular study published in 2015 followed 75 children from pre-birth to age thirteen and supplemented the experimental group from four weeks before birth (the mom) to six months of age with Lactobacillus rhamnosus and the control group with placebo. They initially examined the differences in gut microbiota in the children at birth and later found a correlation to those who were later diagnosed with either ADHD or Asperger’s Syndrome. Turns out, those affected had a significantly lower amount of Bifidobacterium longum at the age of three months than the children that did not receive a diagnosis. At the end of the thirteen years, six out of thirty five children in the placebo group were diagnosed with ADHD or AS while NONE of the children in the probiotic group were. 

That’s pretty compelling, but what I found the most profound of all was this gem of a study right here, published in 2003. It was only performed on twenty children age 7-12, but I don’t care. What they found was amazing. Supplementing these kids for just four weeks with a mix of B vitamins, Vitamin C, minerals (iron, copper), phytonutrients, amino acids, essential fatty acids, phospholipids, and probiotics specifically chosen to address the ADHD biochemical risk factors was found to be just as affective as ritalin treatment. We’re talking behaviors like focus, consistency, fidgeting, impulsiveness, stamina, vigilance, and speed. I’m impressed. You may see a future blog post on this topic soon.

What to do with all of this information? For some immunocompromised individuals (those on chemotherapy, HIV patients, or those receiving organ transplants) you may want to ask you doctor before you start any new supplements. Otherwise, I’ve given you lots of good reasons to add probiotics into your daily regimen. If you choose a supplement, be sure to read the label and follow the directions. If you prefer to start with adding some food sources, here are some good options:

Kefir: fermented milk

Yogurt: you know what this is, but I recommend greek because of its high protein content

Kombucha: fermented black tea

Sauerkraut: fermented cabbage

Apple cider vinegar: the kind with floaty things on the bottom, not the cheap stuff, use as a salad dressing

Tempeh: a fermented soybean product, thicker and firmer than tofu

Miso: a traditional Japanese paste-like spice made from soybeans and barely with koji (fungus…yum)

Fermented pickles: these won’t be shelf stable, those are pasteurized and do not contain live cultures (so think gherkins, not the ones pickled in vinegar but rather salt and water)

Sourdough bread: did I just give you a reason to eat bread?? Sort of. The yeast is fermented, creating the “sour” taste and making it easier to digest than other breads

Aged, soft cheese: such as cheddar, gouda, parmesan, and swiss (note, most others will not contain live, active cultures)

Kimchi: a spicy, korean dish made up of mostly cabbage and other fermented vegetables

Have fun trying some of these new foods if you are interested in expanding into some of the ethnic or vegetarian options. If you are interested in what brand of probiotic supplement I use and recommend, feel free to reach out to me via the links below.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free online support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Drink coffee and eat cheese to lower your diabetes risk?

It’s no secret that obesity is an epidemic in the United States and many other developed countries. Because of that, comorbid conditions that are related to extra weight are on the rise. Of particular interest is Type 2 Diabetes, a condition where your body cannot use insulin properly to regulate your blood sugar levels, causing hyperglycemia (aka high blood sugar.)

A quick science lesson to understand what’s going on in someone who has diabetes: insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that is necessary to move glucose (sugar) molecules into our body’s cells for energy. Every cell in the body requires glucose to function. If those glucose molecules are hanging out in the blood stream, they aren’t doing their job and instead, are creating problems like blurred vision, excessive hunger/thirst and fatigue because the body is essentially acting like you haven’t eaten. Chronically high blood sugars lead to heart disease, kidney failure, and permanent nerve damage. No organ can function correctly in a thick, syrupy-like bloodstream.

This is why prevention and management of diabetes is so important. It can absolutely be diet controlled and I’ve witnessed many individuals be able to get off of their diabetes meds with enough weight loss and diet modifications. It’s possible. But always better to not have it to begin with since diabetes is not curable. Note, I’m only referring to Type 2 diabetes here. Type 1 is genetic, usually diagnosed in childhood, and happens when the pancreas produces no insulin at all. It is unrelated to lifestyle factors. 

So what foods increase your risk? Let’s start there since more than 29 million Americans are living with diabetes, and 86 million are living with pre-diabetes. Many of those unaware. Some risk factors like age, genetics, race, and family history are out of our control. However, one thing we can do is choose what we put on our plates. Emerging research has some interesting results on just exactly what to choose and what to ditch.

Foods that increase risk:

  • refined/processed carbohydrates such as crackers, cereal, white bread, cookies, snack cakes, chips, pastries, etc. Interestingly, those marketed as “low-fat, fat-free, and low carb” are also linked to an increased diabetes risk. Why? Because they are still processed!
  • red meat (according to this study “red meat” included beef, pork, and lamb)
  • processed red meat (think bacon, hot dogs, sausage, salami, bologna, etc)
  • sugary drinks like fruit juice with added sugars, soda, fruit punch, lemonade, sweet tea, etc

Foods that have a neutral effect (at least for now):

  • butter
  • poultry (according to the research, the evidence is not clear if it increases or decreases risk)
  • 100% fruit juice without added sugars
  • eggs (can we all just agree it’s okay to eat eggs already?)
  • fish (although may decrease risk in some Asian populations)

Foods that decrease risk:

  • green leafy, vegetables
  • nuts
  • whole grains (unrefined, with the bran still intact)
  • monounsaturated fats (such as avocados, nut butters, mixed nuts)
  • high-fat dairy products (cheese, cream, whole milk, kefir, yogurt) *you read that right, check it out here
  • coffee (add some cream! who else is getting excited? It’s true, really I’m not lying to justify my addiction.)
  • tea
  • alcohol (2 drink limit for men, 1-1.5 drink limit for women, but no need to start if you don’t) *you read that right, too

Much of the research cited is from food frequency questionnaires on large scale studies. As you may know from my previous posts, this method of data collection is not the most reliable, but it’s difficult to control human behavior, especially when it comes to diet over a long period of time. Either way, I think these lists of food gives us some valuable insight on what we can control in our own life.

Lastly, remember that your diabetes risk increases after the age of 45, exercising less than three times per week, being overweight, and having a family history of diabetes. 

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

The real reason to go vegan (hint: it’s not because meat causes cancer)

I want to start with a disclaimer, I don’t have Netflix. I know. But I rarely watch tv these days and when I do, it’s in the form of a Friday night animated movie with my kids. You’ll understand in a minute why this matters to the topic of vegan diets.

But first, let’s clarify what a vegan diet really is. It’s not the same thing as going vegetarian which is simply cutting out some or all animal products. Vegans are hard core. They don’t eat animal containing products of any kind including beef, poultry, seafood, dairy products, eggs, honey and any products containing such ingredients (i.e. whey, casein, lactose, egg white albumen, gelatin, cochineal or carmine, shellac, L-cysteine, animal-derived vitamin D3 and fish-derived omega-3 fatty acids.) Most vegans I have known rely on whole, plant based foods to compose their diets. The bulk of their diet comes from nuts, seeds, beans, fresh fruits and vegetables, rice, potatoes, and occasional dairy substitutes. They typically do not consume processed meat substitutes (that would be a flexitarian), processed junk food, added oils, and sugary drinks/sweets. These are health conscious people that often care about the environment too.

A certain movie on Netflix has been circulating recently about how healthy vegan diets are, suggesting if you follow them, you won’t get cancer, Type 2 diabetes, or heart disease. And highlights how unhealthy eating meat, poultry, processed meat, even fish, and all forms of dairy is. Cancer in a patty with melted diabetes on top, shall we?

As a reader of my stuff, you probably know by now, I have an opinion. But you should also know my opinions are based on quality evidence. I’ve read a thorough review of the movie but my post really isn’t to bash the movie. What I’d prefer to do is shed some light on the real reason you’d want to consider following a vegan diet instead of a bunch of bias and poorly backed reasons of why you shouldn’t eat meat. In the world of nutrition and scientific research, there are very little absolutes. When it comes down to it, nobody really has the answer. If they did, they would be extremely wealthy and these diseases that have become such epidemics would be eradicated by now. One little movie just doesn’t have the miracle answer. Sorry.

So let’s outline some great reasons why a vegan diet would be a great option, sprinkled with a few reasons why it might not be a fit for you:

  1. Vegan diets are nutritious: this really is a no brainer. They are naturally higher in fiber, folic acid, vitamins C and E, potassium, magnesium, and many phytochemical than the typical western diet (aka standard American diet aka SAD). The fat content is also more unsaturated since there is no allowance for the primary sources it comes from like butter, beef, processed goods and poultry skin. However, there are going to be a few nutrients that will present a challenge and concerted effort to obtain adequate amounts is required. Vitamin B-12 to start with because the best source in the SAD comes from eggs and animal products. There is a product that you may have never heard of unless you circulate in the vegan communities called nutritional yeast, which can be fortified with B-12 (think parmesan cheese). Most solid vegans I know take daily sublingual supplements or bi-weekly injections. Really no way of getting around that one, a B12 deficiency can lead to all kinds of issues including permanent neurological damage, so don’t mess with it. Next ones are vitamin D, calcium, and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. These three power house nutrients typically come from canned seafood and dairy products, both off the vegan menu. If flax seed, flax seed oil, and walnuts are a regular part of the diet, omega 3 fatty acids should not be a problem. And there are always vegan omega 3 supplements. It should be noted that the vegan supplements are not as bioavailable as the fish supplements, however. Some green leafy vegetables will provide plenty of calcium if eaten regularly especially kale, broccoli, and watercress. Almonds are also a great source of calcium all things considered. Plant-based dairy alternatives can be a good option too if fortified with vitamin D, B12, and calcium. I talk more about them in this recent post.
  2. There is possibility that vegans are at lower risk of heart disease, certain types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes. The research isn’t clear, folks. The movie which shall remain anonymous, gave studies, which to the average person unfamiliar with how research works, might sound compelling, if not downright terrifying. But much of what they cited was based off of dietary recalls and food frequency questionnaires. I did some of my own digging, that’s what I found too here, here, and here. As a dietitian, I’ve completed both myself and obtained thousands of dietary recalls. Can you give me an account of everything you’ve eaten for the past seven days including snacks, drinks, and meals? How about a month? I can’t either. That’s what they are basing their research on and then saying the amount of meat these people ate is linked to their cause of cancer. You can’t buy that. I will note, if these people are professing to be vegans and in two of the studies I linked to, the subjects are seventh day adventists as well, I’m guessing the researchers are taking their word that they don’t smoke, drink alcohol, or consume animal products. So over the 6 and 8 year follow up period these two studies took place, these people never messed up. Not once. Not ever. I’ll let you decide how likely that is. And how truthful people are about that. Especially when it comes to their religion.
  3. You could be thinner. True. Could be. I’m a weight loss expert. I’ve been working with people on weight loss for over ten years. I’ve never been able to adequately help someone lose weight without reducing their carbohydrate intake and increasing their protein intake. Quite opposite of a vegan diet. But certainly, the carbohydrate choices I recommend are fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans/legumes. Really, I’m tired of of the 100-calorie snack packs and 1-point snack cakes filling up the grocery aisles advertised as weight loss foods. They aren’t. And they aren’t part of a vegan diet, that’s a win.

Obesity is the second leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Smoking is number one. My mission is to help you lose weight effectively and for good. I don’t buy for one second that eating a piece of bacon or any processed meat is like smoking five cigarettes. This study compared various types of cancer risks relative to habits like smoking history, processed meat, and red meat intake. However, they based their conclusions on food frequency questionnaires and did not take into account BMI or family history of cancer (although they gathered the information.) They did survey close to 500,000 individuals. So I will give it to them that they have numbers on their side. If you’ve ever talked to me about processed meat, you know I don’t like nitrites and nitrates because I do believe that there is strong evidence that they are linked to cancer and there are too many great nitrite-free options to risk it. But that doesn’t mean eliminate them altogether nor does that make a strong case to go vegan. In fact, this study found a reduction in all cause mortality when individuals replaced red meat with unprocessed white meat (chicken, fish, etc). But again, they obtained their evidence from questionnaires. So who really knows.

So far, maybe I haven’t given much compelling reason to go all out vegan. I’m really not anti-vegan at all. In fact, I’ve considered it myself but I live with two meat-lovers  and one-dairy lover so I prefer to keep the peace for now. At first glance, there is some compelling evidence that it’s the miracle diet we’ve been looking for. But then again, other diets are out there showing similar promises. Fact is, we don’t know enough about any of them and I’m not sure if we ever will. I don’t know anyone that has gained weight, could blame their cancer, heart disease, or diabetes on following a vegan diet. Quite opposite in all of the personal encounters I’ve experienced myself. If it’s something you are considering, have a plan, allow for a little flexibility, and incorporate supplements if necessary.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Keto diet- is it everything and more?

Several weeks ago, I began a diet review series and I did a brief synopsis of the Keto Diet. I admit it wasn’t very thorough and because I keep seeing it pop up and another friend starting it, another friend losing weight with it, and another person swearing by it for their increased energy, I’m gonna do a more thorough review here. I especially see my friends in the holistic communities doing it- and it’s spreading faster than the Whole 30 diet once was.

Is this the newest fad that will be replaced by something better in a couple of years? Or is it here to stay and in several years we are going to see evidenced based research popping up at how it’s the best diet that we never knew existed and if we just figured out how healthy fat was for us earlier, maybe we wouldn’t be seeing the rise of heart disease, obesity, cancer, and other related diseases that we do today?

Well, let’s start with what it even is. Roughly 70-75% fats (you read right), 5-10% carbohydrate, and 20-25% protein. As you can see this is not your normal low carb diet that typically replaces the missing carbs with protein. It’s all about the fat. Why? Because the purpose of this diet is to put your body into ketosis, aka a fat burning machine. Just to give you a little science lesson here, our bodies preferred source of fuel is glucose (what carbs are converted to after we eat them). Now if you are eating a diet high in carbs, that is what you will burn first for energy. And everything requires energy in our bodies to function properly, including our brains. When the body runs out of glucose (will happen if you aren’t eating very many carbs), the liver is great at producing a back up, called ketones. Ketones come from broken down fat. Make sense?

So why do people do this? I dunno about you, but while a high fat diet sounds pretty fun to me, a diet made of mostly fat doesn’t. But there are lots of anecdotal reports of promising results when one follows this kind of diet. I’ll start with two that have evidenced-based research backing the claims up (because you know me, that’s what I’m about.)

Note: it was very difficult for me to find any studies published prior to 2017 (soooo….6 months ago) that called a ketogenic diet low carb high fat. Be aware of that because any other “ketogenic” diet before that in the research was defined as “low carb, high protein.” There is a huge difference and that’s not what we are talking about here. I worked with patients and personally participated in 2 published studies on very low calorie high protein, low carb diets for 7 years.

Weight loss: this article  published in 2013 reviewed 12 different studies and found in 1415 subjects, the average weight loss after 6 months on a high fat, low carb diet was 2 pounds vs. 1.6 pounds for those following a low fat diet. After a 6 month follow up it was difficult to assess because compliance was not so great and they consumed more carbs than allowed. Another study published in 2009 was done for a full year on 106 obese individuals and compared weight loss of those on a keto diet vs a low fat, high carb diet. They found that their average weight loss was the same between groups, both losing an average of 30 pounds. Pretty good, but neither diet was superior to the other. It just showed that following a reduced calorie diet yields weight loss.

I will add here that I’ve always said, I’ve failed at what I do if I helped you lose weight but you regained it all back. I don’t think we know enough about this diet for the purposes of weight loss to know if it’s not just another yo yo plan. Sorry.

Lipid levels: In the same 2013 review, they analyzed 1258 subjects and found their triglycerides decreased significantly, and their HDL levels increased significantly. Both good things. I like that and the amount of subjects is enough to say it’s valid.

Other indicators of Metabolic Syndrome: The 2013 review noted there was no significant difference between treatment groups in changes in systolic blood pressure (11 trials), fasting blood glucose (eight trials), insulin (six trials), HbA1c – average blood glucose over three months (four trials) and C-reactive protein (four trials).

Athletic performance: In this 2017 review, they concluded that long-term low carb, high fat diets appear to be safe and may even improve several metabolic risk factors for chronic diseases in the general population. They may even provide a promising way to help control body weight and fat mass while maintaining lean body mass in athletes who are participating in sports like tae kwan do, wrestling, lightweight rowing, cycling, and running. Additionally, there is some emerging evidence that a keto diet could improve the performance in ultra-endurance sports as well as those sports with repeated high intensity activities. If you aren’t an athlete, this could still be a good thing if you’re hitting up the gym and wanna try out that new cycling class.

Focus and Mood: this has been one result that many believers love the most. And why I believe they stick with it. Who wouldn’t when you feel great, you’re losing weight, and you’re better able to focus? Who doesn’t need that? Here’s what the available research says: in a 2009 study, they found that after 8 weeks, those following both low carb, high fat diet and a low fat diet had significant improvements in their mood and cognitive functions. However, after a year, the low carb, high fat diet returned to their baseline mood and cognitive functions while those on the low-fat diet continued with their marked improvements. You read that right. The low-fat diet group continued with the better mood, NOT the keto group. This study here in 1998 reported similar results on women eating a high carb diet. I’m just the messenger, don’t hate me! Now, I’m not recommending you go eat a bunch of carbs to feel better. Okay?

Here’s the thing, the concept of following a keto diet for weight loss is fairly new in the research world. So you’re not gonna find a whole lot out there to prove it does a whole lot for health yet. You will find a bunch out there to show the benefits of what it does for those with epilepsy unresponsive to medication. It works.

And don’t expect overnight results. It takes time for the body to adapt to ketogenesis. Some sources I’ve read say two weeks, others say up to a couple of months – assuming you don’t go off plan, not even once. So no cheat days allowed. This diet is for the type A strict meal planning types. Those who are willing to keep a food record and count their carbs, fats, and proteins will do best.

I’m a weight loss expert. And here’s what I know about long term, sustainable weight loss. It’s hard. Like, really hard. If you’re looking for a study that proves ANY diet to work and be the ending answer to our obesity epidemic, well good luck. You will surely find that one person who followed a high carb diet and lost 167 pounds and now has kept it off for 13 years. There’s gonna be that person following the Atkins diet since it’s introduction to the dieting world and it’s changed their life forever. And then there’s the rest of the dieting world still looking for what works for them. I did not find anything that said following the ketogenic diet was harmful, not even long term. In fact, quite opposite. So if you wanna try it because you know someone or more than a few someones who are following it and now they look and feel great and you think it’s something that could help you, well let me know! I’m always looking to be inspired by someone’s dieting success story.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Do you know what high fructose corn syrup really is?

Believe it or not, there is a large degree of controversy in the health community as to whether or not high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) any different than consuming sugar, honey, or any of the other sweeteners humans have consumed for decades prior to the 1970s when it was first introduced on the market.

Let’s start off with defining what this evil thing is, HFCS, anyway. I’m sure you’ve heard of it, probably all bad things. But do you know what it really is (besides an evil liquid sweet substance that makes you fat especially your liver, inflames everything in your body, and will likely give you a heart attack in the next 5 years)? Defined, it is derived from corn starch which has been broken down into corn syrup to which enzymes have been added to change some of the glucose to fructose, making the product

sweeter than regular corn syrup. Regular corn syrup is 100% glucose whereas HFCS now has a large portion or fructose. According to the FDA, HFCS 42 (as in 42% fructose) is mainly used in processed foods, cereals, baked goods, and some beverages. HFCS 55 (as in 55% fructose) is used primarily in soft drinks. Make sense?

Why is it used? Because it’s cheap. It comes from an abundance and renewable source in the agricultural industry – corn. It’s also stable in acidic environments and beverages, making it very easy to use in products. Being that it’s liquid, it’s also easy to pump from delivery vehicles to mixing and storage tanks.

So why the controversy? It’s cheap, it’s easy, seems to be near identical to table sugar, which is 50% glucose and 50% fructose – the substance all other sweeteners are compared to. So why all the media hype? One of the biggest spotlights it has been deemed a demon for is the obesity epidemic. I’ve done as thorough research review and as Harry Truman said, “If you can’t convince them, conf

use them.”And that’s largely where I’m at -sort of.

Here’s why. The vast majority of the studies I read concluded that HFCS is no more to harmful to our health than consuming regular table sugar is. That doesn’t mean it’s good for you, it just means it’s not worse for you than eating added sugars in general. That makes a lot of sense to me because I already know that eating added sugar does more harm that good. What didn’t make sense to me was that some of these articles, like this one from the NIH, while compelling, were funded by Pepsi Co International, Coca Cola, ConAgra Foods, Kraft Foods, Corn Refiners Association, and Weight Watchers. The conclusion was “based on high quality evidence from randomized controlled tria

ls (RCT), systematic reviews and meta-analyses of cohort studies that singling out added sugars as unique culprits for metabolically based diseases such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease appears inconsistent with modern, high quality evidence and is very unlikely to yield health benefits.” In case you forgot, Weight Watchers has a large product line if one and two point cakes, muffins, and other yummy sweet treats to keep you on track with your point count.

And this review, who’s final statement was “it does not appear to be practical to base dietary guidance on selecting or avoiding these specific types of sweeteners,” was funded by the United States Department of Agriculture. It’s just hard for me to see beyond the possibility of hidden agendas w

hen companies who have a lot to lose are dumping their money into statements telling the public th

at what they are doing is perfectly safe.

I did find some unbiased research out there though. As of 2004, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that there indeed is evidence that it may have a special connection to the rising obesity rates, particularly because of the overconsumption of sweetened sodas. The conclusion that started this whole controversy was that “the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and gout is also increased with the consumption of sugar-sweetened soft drinks.”

But why would this be? For starters, with the cheap source of sweeteners, the average soda size grew from sixteen ounce bottles to twenty. Even more so, this sugary substance is addicting. W

hen we get a taste of it, we want more. Sweetness is an acquired taste. Ever met a one year old who’s never had candy or cookies? I have and they could care less about it. I met a holistic nutrition doctor once that has two children between the ages of five and ten who have never had sugar of any kind before….and they didn’t want it. In contrast, I’ve met a two year old who’s tasted candy and they will go through great lengths to get it (like pulling up chairs, climbing furniture, hiding behind furniture with said candy, screaming, crying…not that this was my kid or anything.)

In a more recent study in 2013, they concluded similar results (along with increased risk of fatty liver disease) with more astounding statistics – between 1950 and 2000 the soda consumption increased from 10 gallons per year to over 50 gallons per year and from 120 pounds of sugar in 1994 to over 160 pounds of sugar in the 21 st century.

Additionally, fructose can be a nightmare if you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome. For about one third of sufferers, fructose malabsorption or intolerance may exacerbate symptoms of bloating, gas, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Fructose is naturally found in honey and fruits. But we eat it on the daily in sugary drinks and processed foods – trying to eliminate it can be a challenge. Same goes for those with a corn allergy. It’s becomes a second job to avoid HFCS since it’s now in not only sodas but crackers, cookies, frozen dinners, granola bars, and yogurt.

Lastly, I’ve talked about the hunger regulating hormones, ghrelin and leptin before. There is evidence to suggest that HFCS inhibits insulin secretion thus, the leptin isn’t produced to promote satiety after a meal or a snack full of HFCS. As far as I have found, ghrelin (the hunger producing hormo

ne) isn’t increased, but who cares when you get no full signal while you’re chowing down on a box of doughnuts?

Bottom line: eat it, as with table sugar and all added sugars, in moderation. It is unclear if HFCS is the cause of the rising obesity epidemic and all of the related health issues we are experienc

ing in ourselves and our families, but it is crystal clear that there is a correlation.

What is moderation though? Well, I didn’t find much out there. I know less than 160 pounds per year, but that doesn’t tell me a whole lot. To give you an idea, one 12 ounce can of soda has 40 grams. So consider a plant-based diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and eliminate sweetened beverages. Start there and limit the sweets to special occasions and holidays.

 

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Don’t believe everything you read

I don’t know about you, but it makes me a bit aggravated that we have to comb through piles of research articles to understand what’s in our food supply these days. I’m supposed to be a nutrition expert and even I get confused. I can tell you dietitians are confused too, because they buy in to a lot of the junk out there – and here’s the thing: most of it is opinion based. For instance, if you keep up with the latest nutrition trends, you likely heard about coconut oil recently and how the American Heart Association has deemed it “unhealthy.” They’ve gone as far to say that we should eliminate it from our diets in order to keep our LDL (aka “bad” cholesterol) at bay. In fact, many of the dietitians (not all) in the circles I run in support this stance. Why? Because “holistic” health is unpopular in a science-based community. I’ve experienced the ridicule directly. Sometimes it’s easier to just believe what the big governing bodies say than to go against the grain. The research is there for functional and homeopathic medicine, but it’s not popular in western medicine.

I’ve been there. I was employed by one of the most well known research-based teaching hospitals in the world for nearly ten years. Going against traditional medicine and what a doctor says isn’t very popular. But we need to think for ourselves sometimes, especially if we are going to call ourselves nutrition experts. Because they don’t have time to talk to people about their patients’ diets. It’s not their thing. Their thing is sick people. We are the ones who have a chance to talk to the well and we are blowing it.

Now let me be very clear. I am NOT one of those people that live in fear of the government’s conspiracy against the people. I am NOT one of those people that believe all big Pharma is out “to get us” nor do I believe doctors or researchers have the cure for cancer and they’re just all hiding it from us to stay rich. I’ve looked into the eyes of a doctor right before and right after he’s had to tell a patient they have cancer and their hope for a long future is shattered. Believe me when I say – being rich was not on that doctor’s mind. But I do believe when it comes to making money, the business of pharmaceuticals as well as food manufacturing is alive and well. But that’s for an entirely different conversation.

So let’s get to the subject of the American Heart Association’s so called “review” of the research. They picked four publications to focus on. By now you’ve probably read some rebuttals on the subject as have I. But as a dietitian, I feel it’s my responsibility to write my own evaluation on the subject and properly educate the public. So let’s start with the facts. The press and the AHA have spotlighted coconut oil as being the evil one yet has failed to mention that coconut oil was not the source of saturated fat in their core studies completed over 50 years ago (side note: I was taught to sick within this decade when reviewing research.) I’ve read it twice just to be sure. The saturated fat sources put to the chopping block come from dairy and animal fats in said studies. Those just aren’t the same thing. At the end, coconut oil gets it’s own section, and based off of seven studies they cherry picked, they concluded that coconut oil raises LDL cholesterol in the same way as animal and dairy fats and thus, conclude that it should be eliminated from our diets. They do admit these studies did not examine coconut oil’s direct effects on CVD. It was also noted to raise HDL cholesterol and lowered the LDL:HDL ratio, however (both good things.) I’ll just leave a recent study right here published at the end of 2015.

If the AHA is going to advise against using coconut oil, why didn’t they recommend we eliminate dairy or meat from our diet? I mean, there was more evidence in their review on those two if you ask me. Now I’m not a vegan and I’ve discussed this diet in another post. But there are a lot of good things to be said about going vegan. But then again, the AHA are proponents of the DASH diet, so there’s that. And as you will see later, although they deny conflicts of interest, that remains questionable. They give honorable mention to the mediterranean diet as well, which I also highly recommend. This one is high in monounsaturated fat and those folks tend to have lower rates of heart disease.

Lastly, the underlying theme of this article was that polyunsaturated fats, more specifically omega-6 fats, will save the day. I’m not sure I buy that. It has been known from previous, more current research that eating a higher proportion of omega-6 (found in soybean oil) to omega-3 (found mostly in flax seed, walnuts, and fish) fat has a negative effect on heart health. I do, however, believe that lowering animal fat will decrease LDL cholesterol, which their studies in this review did show.

Scroll down to the very end of this review, not the post everyone’s reading about how unhealthy coconut oil is, but the actual published paper they are referring to. It was funded by eleven pharmaceutical companies including: Amarin, Amgen, AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, Glaxo-Smith Kline, Merck, Pfizer, Regeneron/Sano, Takeda, Akcea/ Ionis, and Dr. Reddy. And it was also funded by several others including Esai (energy research and consulting firm), California Walnut Commission (Certified by the AHA, proponents of the DASH and Mediterranean diets), Ag Canada and Canola Oil Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Seafood Nutrition Partnership, TerraVia (algae oil high in monounsaturated fat, low in saturated fat), and Avocado Nutrition Science Advisors. Need I say more? I think I’m done here.

So what is coconut oil good for anyway?

  1. Oil pulling: the practice of swishing it around like mouthwash for about 10-20 minutes for oral hygiene purposes. In one study in particular, after just fourteen days there was a reduction in plaque forming bacteria, even as good as using chlorhexidine with distilled water. In a second study, oil pulling reduced plaque and gingivitis markers after just seven days and continued after thirty days.
  2. Weight loss aid: because it contains medium chain triglycerides, it has been found to decrease waist circumference after four weeks in subjects, particularly men. It has also shown a slight increase in metabolism, however this has only been a temporary effect which is why I don’t generally recommend it for that purpose.
  3. Antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties: this makes it great for fighting common skin infections and issues like acne, athlete’s foot, candida, even cellulitis.
  4. Moisturizer: again, great for healing dry, irritated skin and related conditions like eczema or diaper rash. It can even be used as a sunscreen, blocking 20% of UV rays.
  5. Anti-inflammatory: studies have shown it may help reduce this symptom of oxidative stress.
  6. Easily digestible energy source that won’t raise blood sugar levels: medium chain triglycerides are the easiest for our bodies to metabolize and thus, are used by the body quickly.
  7. Carrier oil: as an essential oil lover myself, some of them are considered “hot” and are better if mixed with a carrier and will actually be absorbed better because it holds them to the skin longer rather than the essential oil evaporating quickly. The possibilities are endless if using coconut oil since it already acts as a natural moisturizer and anti-fungal. Add essential oils and all of their various health benefits, you can have anything from bug repellents to sleep creams to extra strength anti-fungal creams and more.

These are just to name a few. Coconut oil has a high smoke point, which makes it easier to cook with than other oils like olive oil. It adds a variety of flavor to foods that need a twist. As with anything, no need to go overboard, if you are wanting the health benefits of consuming it, two tablespoons a day is plenty but anything less is probably not enough. And go for organic, extra virgin. The other stuff is highly processed and health benefits are stripped.

As you may have noticed, I’ve included a ton of links to evidenced-based research in this post. I believe in providing sound advice, I really do. Some of the stuff I’ve talk about has been referred to as “quackery,” but that’s just silly. I understand research and have participated in a few studies myself. It IS possible to have a respect for both sides. So now that we’ve cleared all that up, let me know in the comments what your favorite way to use coconut oil is!

P.S. Interested in some weight loss hacks? The event is over, but the replay is still up on Facebook!

P.P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Dieting hacks: optical illusions & outta sight, outta mind

A lot of what we eat, sizes we choose, and amounts we serve ourselves are just an illusion. What do I mean by this?

Studies have shown that the most popular drink serving size is medium. However, “medium” is varies from restaurant to restaurant. For example, did you know Starbucks has a “short” size? It’s true. But they don’t advertise it because if they did, they know they would sell mostly “tall” drinks instead of “grande” which in most people’s eyes is considered their “medium” size. Why? Because they advertise tall-grande-venti. If they advertised short-tall-grande, we would all want tall. Interesting, huh?

To drive home this point, the first time I went to my local movie theater, I got a medium soda. However, what they considered medium was about 42 ounces!!! I took my kids yesterday and remembered this, so I ordered a “small” 32 ounces. Still gigantic, but imagine how many people are ordering the 42 ounce sodas simply because of the “medium” label? In a gas station, we call those “big gulps.”

I haven’t been to a bar in a long time….make that about 8 years (about the age of my oldest plus 9 months.) But in study found that experienced bartenders will pour about 20% more alcohol into a short glass versus the same size tall glass if not pre-measured while the average person will pour around 30% more. You think restaurants and bars have more tall glasses because of this? Of course they do! Or at least they are required to use their jiggers! Try this concept with your children for fun: show them 1/2 cup candy in a tall glass and a short glass (clear, see through) and give them a choice. They will choose the tall glass even though its the same amount. Why? Because the tall, slender glass looks like more candy.

How can you apply the optical illusion concept to your life?

  1. Use smaller bowls, plates, and cups so that it appears as if you are eating more than you are. As referenced in my last post, those portions will get lost in large plates and it’s been proven over and over, you will eat more if you eat on large serving dishes.
  2. Divide your snacks into smaller portions. The same researcher mentioned above, found that using visual indicators significantly reduces the amount that we eat. Check out this study where just adding a different color every seventh or fourteenth chip resulted in a 250 calorie difference!! It really can be that easy, folks! This is why single serving and 100 calorie packs are so effective! Get yourself some snack-sized plastic baggies and pre-portion out your snacks or before you sit down to watch television with a bag of chips, put a handful in a bowl first so you can see what you are eating. Do not rely on estimates when you are eating directly from the bag. Take that extra step if you are serious about losing weight.
  3. Make it inconvenient to overeat and put foods you should be limiting out of sight. Remove the candy dish off your desk and put it somewhere you can’t see it (like, in the trash. No really, in the pantry). Get the bag of chips off the top of your refrigerator and put it behind closed cabinet doors. Store your leftovers in an opaque container, in the back of your refrigerator (I don’t care if you forget about them, that’s the kind of the point!) And please, stop storing that ice cream in the freezer in case your grandkids come visit! It’s not good for them, either!
  4. Keep healthy foods convenient and visible. Store fresh fruits and vegetables in clear containers, in the front of your refrigerator, already cut up and ready to eat. Purchase cheese sticks already portioned out and make sure they aren’t buried under stuff in the deli drawer. Boil eggs in advance and peel them so that they are ready for a snack when you’re hungry, again stored in a clear container where you can see them. Replace the cookie jar on the counter with a bowl of fresh fruit. Put some single serve trail mix packages on top of your fridge in place of the chips. Need proof this stuff works? Here’s another study for you on how out of sight, out of mind reduces over-eating- office workers ate 5.6 more chocolates each day when dishes were visible but inconvenient, and 2.9 more chocolates when dishes were convenient but not visible. I’m suggesting you do both (make the food inconvenient and invisible), but according to this study, it’s the visibility that really counts.

Even if you pick one or two of these hacks to try, I think you will see some results in your life. Let me know in the comments what you try and how it’s helping you. Remember, it’s not willpower, it’s skill-power. I’m going to keep emphasizing that point because I want you to understand that you have the power within yourself to see the results that you desire.

P.S. Love to eat out but not sure how to fit it in with your health and wellness goals? Get these tips  sent to your inbox and master the dieting hacks even when you’re at restaurants!

P.P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Diet hacks for eating less and feeling full

Portion control. Do you cringe when you hear that? It’s more like portion distortion. The bigger is better mentality has surfaced everywhere – smart phones, television screens, computer monitors, boobs (yea, I said it), muscles, tires, cars, houses, and on and on.

Here’s the deal….most of us don’t even know what a portion of any food actually is. And when we do find out, it’s laughable. Why is that? Well, because we have become conditioned to super-sized servings. Now, a portion is an actual MEASURED amount. A serving is whatever you put on your plate. They are two very different things. So here’s a little education for you:

1 portion of carbohydrate = 1/2 cup (cooked, plain cereal like oatmeal/grits, potatoes, pasta corn, peas, beans) (80 calories) *rice is an exception at only 1/3 cup per serving

1 portion non starchy vegetable = 1 cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked, but really – unlimited (25 calories)

1 portion fresh fruit = 1 cup raw, 1 cup frozen or 1/2 cup canned (60 calories)

1 portion added fat = 1 teaspoon (oil, butter) (100 calories)

1 portion nut butter or avocado, sour cream = 1 tablespoon (90 calories)

1 portion nuts = 1/4 cup (170 calories)

1 portion dairy (milk, plain yogurt, cottage cheese) = 1 cup (110 calories)

1 portion of lean meat (chicken, fish, pork tenderloin, egg) = 3 ounces  or 1 egg (110 calories)

1 portion of high fat meat (beef, ribs, fatty fish) = 1 1/2 ounces (110 calories)

Note these are all estimates and foods vary A LOT depending on added sugars and fats or lack thereof. So reading labels is important too. But the key here is to understand that you are probably over-eating. For example, in a restaurant, the smallest sirloin is 9 ounces, that’s SIX TIMES as much as a “portion size”. I’m not saying you can only eat 1 1/2 ounces, but calories count and they add up fast if you aren’t paying attention. It’s really no wonder how people gain weight easily when they are eating out frequently.

But it’s not just restaurants to blame. It’s how we cook at home, too. For instance, when you make pasta – do you cook the entire box? Have you ever looked at the label? A pound of pasta is enough to feed sixteen people if you are sticking to the 1/2 cup serving. If you go with the box’s suggested serving of two ounces or 1 cup each, then you are cooking for eight people. I’m guessing you aren’t feeding that many people for dinner on a regular basis though. So how do you deal without feeling hungry all the time?

Here are some tried and true tricks:

  1. Realize this is not willpower. I repeat – NOT willpower. It’s skill-power. So first of all, STOP cooking for an army and start cooking for the number of people having the actual dinner. I once counseled a couple that did this and each lost forty pounds without changing what they were eating. If you really don’t want to do this, then plan for leftovers, but make two pans/pots/casseroles and immediately put one in the freezer or whatever you need to do BEFORE you start eating. Remove that temptation.
  2. Use smaller plates – as in six to eight inch plates. You know those salad plates you have that came with your ten inch dinner plates. Yeah, those ones. In a study done by food scientist and researcher, Brian Wansink, he explored how an optical illusion leads us to make inaccurate estimates of serving size, depending on what size plate they are presented on. The more “white space” around the circle, the smaller it appears and thus, we feel the need to fill the plate to the edges. Same goes with bowls, in another study he conducted at a health and fitness camp, campers who were given larger bowls served and consumed 16% more cereal than those given smaller bowls. Despite the fact that those campers were eating more, they estimated eating 7% less than the group eating from the smaller bowls. Interesting, huh?
  3. Allow a good twenty minutes to finish your first plate before getting seconds. It takes your brain that long to register that you have eaten. Now I do understand that it can be quite annoying to eat slow if you are a naturally fast eater. So I suggest if you zip through your meal in five to ten minutes, then wait for the next ten minutes to pass before you decide if you truly need a second helping. And if you do, go for veggies first since they are the lowest in calories.
  4. Use the plate method and shift the calorie make up on your plate. This goes with the concept of a volumetrics type diet. Notice how vegetables only have twenty-five calories per portion? But the starchy carbohydrates have eighty? And that’s assuming you didn’t load them up with gravy, butter, or other fats. Same with meats, 110 calories per one to two ounces? Fill up half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables (so NOT corn/peas/potatoes), a third with high fiber carbohydrates, and the rest with a meat, preferably a lean meat. If it’s breakfast time, fill that half with fruits. Make sense? You are eating more low calorie foods and less high calorie foods, but not sacrificing volume. Another way of looking at is like this: one cup of salad dressing is around 1440 calories, one cup of nuts is 680 calories, one cup of fat free milk is 90 calories and one cup of raw vegetables is 25 calories. In other words, a large plate of pasta is going to be a ton more calories than a plate of salad. Here’s the issue with most of us: usually our plates are half meat (often high fat), half starch, and vegetables as an afterthought or something starchy like corn (at least here in the south!) Personally, I prefer the plate method over measuring my food. I got kids and if I don’t inhale my food, I don’t eat before there’s an explosion of a hot mess in my house. Like many of you I’m sure, I don’t get the luxury of measuring, weighing, and taking my time to eat dinner – so I’m thankful for these hacks that still make it possible to eat well.

Lastly, remember that the above will not work if you arrive to the dinner table starving. The day starts with a healthy breakfast, planned out high protein snacks and a healthy lunch. If you didn’t eat high protein, healthy foods every three to five hours earlier in the day, you can forget about the rest because you will want to eat the refrigerator door by the time you sit down for dinner and a six inch plate will just piss you off. For tips on preplanning meals – head over to this previous post on how to do that.

P.S. Love to eat out but not sure how to fit it in with your health and wellness goals? Get these tips  sent to your inbox and hopefully they will help you out.

P.P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Part 1: Food additives, are they safe?

MSG, GMO, HFCS, and on and on and on. I dunno about you, but it’s really confusing to eat healthy these days because it seems there is always someone around the corner saying what once was thought to be a health food is now going to disrupt my hormones, upset my gut health, or wreak havoc on my immune system. I thought it was just an apple?

Seriously, when I was growing up my dad always told me those kept the doctor away. And so far for him, they have…..but he’s also from the generation that doesn’t go to the doctor. Not unless there’s a limb hanging off. (That’s another topic, because I don’t necessarily support that mindset, we’ve had a few scares with him over the years.)

So which is it? What do you need to look for? I know if I’m confused and I’m a Dietitian, others must be too. And unfortunately in my research on this topic, our food supply ain’t what it used to be. With growing food trends to make more, make more that lasts longer, and feed the masses from far away places, we need to be aware of what’s in our foods and what we are comfortable feeding ourselves and our families. There are many and I won’t be able to cover them all in this post, but I’ll start with a few today:

  • Sodium nitrites and nitrates: if you have EVER talked to me about eating processed meat of any kind, I’ve likely told you to take the extra second and find some without this ingredient. This includes your bacon, deli meat, hot dogs (should you choose to indulge), sausage and any canned or cured meats like vienna sausage. They are added to these foods to enhance the color and acts as a preservative. If you’ve ever had a nitrite/nitrate free slice of bacon or deli turkey slice, you would NOT taste the difference. But you would be ridding yourself of the cancer-causing effects. We now know that there is a very strong link to digestive cancer and this food preservative. Here is what the American Institute of Cancer Research says: “Research shows that any amount of processed meat eaten regularly increases the risk of both stomach and colorectal cancers. Why risk it when there are other options easily available?
  • Carrageenan: it’s extracted from red seaweed and used in a wide variety of applications in the food industry as a thickening, gelling, stabilizing and suspending agent in water and milk systems. So you are going to find it mostly in dairy products including liquid coffee creamer, cottage cheese, yogurt, soy milk, almond milk, processed cheese, chocolate milk, ice cream, frosting mix, and infant formulas. According to numerous research studies, it’s linked to various harmful effects in the gastrointestinal system including cancer and inflammatory bowel disease (such as ulcers and ulcerative colitis.) The article linked is a review of multiple animal studies – note I don’t always take these types of studies seriously because we’re people and our bodies are very different from rats, guinea pigs, rabbits, and monkeys. But here’s the deal – the results were profound. In just one example, they noted that 100% of guinea pigs given 2% degraded carrageenan as liquid for 20–30 days had colonic ulcerations and  75% of the animals developed > 200 ulcers. When guinea pigs were given 1% undegraded carrageenan as liquid for 20–30 days, 80% developed colonic ulcerations. The review concluded:
• Degraded carrageenan is a known carcinogen in animal models
• Undegraded carrageenan is a known co-carcinogen in animal models of carcinogenesis• In animal models, both degraded and undegraded carrageenan have been associated with development of intestinal ulcerations that resemble ulcerative colitis
• Hydrolysis such as may occur by exposure to gastric acid in the human stomach can lead to the depolymerization of undegraded carrageenan and the availability of degraded carrageenan
• Food-grade carrageenan may be contaminated with low molecular weight, degraded carrageenan that may arise during food processing
• The use of a viscosity measurement to characterize a carrageenan sample is insufficient because the presence of a small number of large molecules (and undegraded carrageenan may have molecular weight in the millions) may obscure a significant low molecular weight fraction.

Personally, my soy milk is carrageenan free. I’m sure it creeps up in my diet elsewhere but when I can, I will be avoiding it.

  • Potassium Bromate: used as a flour enhancer – it increases the volume of bread and produces a fine crumb structure. Most bromate rapidly breaks down to form innocuous bromide during the baking process. The problem is that bromate itself is a known carcinogen in animals and if tiny amounts remain in the end product, it poses a risk to those who eat it. I dunno about you, but I’m getting pretty upset about the amount of known cancer-causing additives in our food products, even if “tiny” and in animals. Especially since many of them, including bromate have been banned everywhere else except in the United States (bromate is also allowed in Japan although most manufacturers have voluntary stopped using it.) Just a side note, if you live in California, you are less likely to consume it because a cancer warning is required on the label when they use it. I will mention many of the brands we are familiar with, like Pepperidge Farm, Arnolds, Entenmann’s and several large supermarket chains have switched to non-bromate bread more than a decade ago, but there are still several products on the market you should be aware of that still use it. For the most updated list I could find on the internet, click here.  If you aren’t sure, read the ingredients list and look for “potassium bromate” or “bromated flour.”

I’m gonna stop here for now because frankly, it takes quite a bit of research on my part to give you sound advice on what’s going on out there. I’m not about instilling the fear in you so you don’t want to eat anything and I know that the world of nutrition can be quite dramatic sometimes. Get on google for a few minutes and you will want to start your own garden and wonder if you have what it takes to milk a cow.

I am going to continue with this in future posts and I would love to hear from you. If there are any food additives or preservatives that you have been wondering about – safety, etc., please contact me or comment on this post.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Email: contact@jillianmcmullen.com

Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN